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Terence Blanchard at Blues Alley, 7-31-11

The veteran trumpeter is flanked by a powerful band at D.C. show

There is simply no reason for Terence Blanchard to push himself as hard as he does. He has carved himself a niche as the go-to composer for jazz-based film soundtracks, amassed a small shelf of Grammys, and is steadily becoming an elder statesman of jazz, despite being only 49 years old. Yet Blanchard is on the road for the rest of the year, playing shows in Asia, South America and stateside. For his recent run at Washington, D.C.’s Blues Alley, Blanchard surrounded himself with four gifted younger musicians, the bassist too young to celebrate the set with a legal drink, who pushed each other through a confident and challenging set.

Blanchard’s quintet performed a five-song set that included three Blanchard originals, a contribution from drummer Kendrick Scott and the standard “Autumn Leaves.” The set lagged a bit in the middle, weighed down by the recorded narration of Dr. Cornel West played during the Blanchard piece “Choices.” The narration feels much more organic in the recording of the song on Blanchard’s recent album of the same name, but it did not translate well to the live jazz club setting. Blanchard’s superbly beautiful tone shone through on these pieces, but the pacing was off and the evening threatened to grow monotonous.

The set picked up with an explosive “Autumn Leaves,” played at a blistering speed and featuring superb soloing from the quintet. The song is a mainstay in Blanchard performances, but this night’s performance was as good as it has sounded.

The evening’s standout player was drummer Scott, a 31-year-old from Houston. The quintet started the evening with Blanchard’s composition “Wandering Wonder,” and while the rest of the band gently settled into the uptempo groove, Scott exploded from the first notes. He spent the rest of the set coaxing and prodding every conceivable sound from his kit and constantly shifting the groove, all while displaying superb musicianship and expert taste. Scott traded eights with Blanchard during “Autumn Leaves,” pushing a clearly amused Blanchard to his highest point of the performance.

Blanchard’s legacy as a jazz musician has threatened to be eclipsed by his work as a film composer, but if Blanchard continues to surround himself with hungry young talent capable of driving him to the heights demonstrated Saturday night, Blanchard’s dual legacy should be secure.

Originally Published